By Zach Cavanagh
The 2019 fall high school sports season is underway, with every team returning to action as of last week. In our annual season preview, we get you caught up on how the Dolphins have fared early on and their outlook for the rest of the season.
For in-game updates, scores, news and more for all of the Dana Hills High School teams, follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports and like our brand new Facebook page South OC Sports.
Boys Water Polo
The Dana Hills boys water polo team has a lot to come back from.
The Dolphins posted one of the best seasons in school history last year, but Dana Hills was left with nothing to show for it.
Dana Hills won 20 games and finished second in the South Coast League again, largely due to two one-goal losses to rival San Clemente. The Dolphins then advanced to the program’s third semifinal appearance as the No. 2 seed in the Division 2 playoffs, but Dana Hills dropped a one-goal lead in the fourth quarter to Mira Costa and lost by two goals. The Dolphins have made only one CIF-SS final in school history.
Dana Hills lost impact players to graduation, but others remain to keep the Dolphins in contention.
The major returner is in the cage with senior Justin Edward. Edward was the backbone of the Dana Hills defensive efforts that kept the Dolphins in games and helped them record two one-goal wins in the playoffs. Edward also had a strong summer with the Orange County Water Polo Club to lead them to the Junior Olympics.
The Dolphins were listed on the CIF-SS Division 1 & 2 preseason watch list. The top eight teams on the list will make up the Division 1 playoff field at the end of the season. San Clemente was also on the list.
Dana Hills is 1-2 on the early season, with a home win over Righetti of Santa Maria and road losses to Woodbridge and Foothill. The Dolphins play at Santa Margarita on Sept. 12.
The South Coast League has tough teams in every game, but it should come down to Dana Hills and San Clemente, as usual.
The Dolphins host round one on Sept. 17 at 3:15 p.m., and the Tritons host round two on Oct. 17 at 3:15 p.m. If you’re a fan of water polo or simply competition in general, mark those games on your calendars. They might just be the best rivalry games in any sport in South Orange County.
The Dana Hills girls volleyball team is set up for a new era.
Tom Hoff takes over the helm for the Dolphins after Gus Culver took over the same position at El Toro High School, where he was already a teacher.
It’s an easy transition for the Dolphins, as Hoff was already volunteering with the Dana Hills program as an assistant last season. Hoff also brings a wealth of experience. Hoff played in three Olympics for the United States (2000, 2004 and 2008) and was the captain of the 2008 gold medal team in Beijing.
Dana Hills was an extremely strong group last year with some mega talents, but the season met a rough end for the Dolphins in an upset sweep loss to San Clemente in the CIF-SS Division 2 quarterfinals, followed by a sweep loss in the first round of the state playoffs to Bishop’s of La Jolla.
The Dolphins are led by a strong senior class, and Hoff is happy with what he’s seen in just four weeks of practice.
“We do a couple things extremely well that seem to make a lot of problems for teams,” Hoff said. “We serve the ball really well. We serve at a high efficiency with a lot of aces. We keep a tremendous amount of pressure on teams that way. We pass the ball and have good ball control.”
The top returner for Dana Hills is senior Hunter Reidl. The Dolphins also will get big contributions from Maura Hayes and Avery Allemann, who were both named to the all-tournament team at the season-opening Tesoro Tournament.
Early on in the season, Dana Hills is 2-3 overall, but the Dolphins are achieving the goals set by Hoff.
“What we’ve talked about is always giving ourselves the opportunity to win the tournament on the last day—be podium finishers,” Hoff said. “We’ve done that. Every tournament, we’ve had the opportunity to go to the championship or we’ve lost in the championship.”
Dana Hills is in the midst of a run against Laguna Beach. The Dolphins met the Breakers in the final of the Tesoro Tournament, where Laguna Beach was victorious in three sets. Dana Hills then traveled to Laguna Beach for a nonleague match on Aug. 21, where the Breakers again prevailed in a five-set thriller. The Dolphins next will open the Dave Mohs Tournament at Edison High School against Laguna Beach on Friday, Sept. 6.
Dana Hills opens South Coast League play against Aliso Niguel at home on Sept. 17 and plays at league champion San Juan Hills on Sept. 26. San Juan Hills has won four straight league titles and won 27 consecutive league matches. Hoff says the Stallions are on that pedestal again until someone knocks them off.
Early results have the Dolphins believing they can compete for their first league title since 2016’s Sea View League championship and their first South Coast League title since 2013.
“The girls have shown themselves that if they put their mind to it with focus,” Hoff said, “they can contend to win.”
The Dolphins will also honor former coach Oz Simmons this season. Simmons died on Sunday, Sept. 1 after a fight with cancer. Simmons coached the boys volleyball team from 1983 to 2018 and won a CIF-SS title in 1986. Simmons also coached the girls volleyball team for two decades. Look for more coverage on Simmons in next week’s issue.
Last season, the Dana Hills girls golf team was packed with seniors, but a 12th-place finish at the CIF-SS Divisional Championships left the Dolphins disappointed.
Going into 2019, there’s a youth movement afoot at Dana Hills as it starts things completely fresh for a Dolphin program looking to recapture championship glory.
Dana Hills does return one player for her senior season, Lauren Wahlstrom, who was the team’s low scorer from that CIF-SS Divisional round. Wahlstrom is just one of two upperclassmen on a roster packed with freshmen and sophomores.
Gianna Comoglio is a returning junior who was also in the playoff top six for Dana Hills.
Early in the season, Wahlstrom continues to be the top player for the Dolphins, posting their lowest nine-hole index at 3.1 and coming off a round of 34 against Mira Costa at El Niguel Country Club on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Wahlstrom is backed up by two freshmen in Sydnie Duvall and Zoie Fuentes, who are the only other two Dolphins with a nine-hole indexes under 10. Duvall has three sub-40 rounds in seven played this season, and both Duval and Fuentes shot 43 in the Mira Costa match.
Dana Hills returns to its traditional home course of El Niguel Country Club this season. The Dolphins played 2018 at the Monarch Beach Links. El Niguel is a par-72, 18-hole championship course.
Dana Hills opens league on Oct. 18 and 19 against Trabuco Hills. The Dolphins play league rival San Clemente on Oct. 9 and 10 and Aliso Niguel on Oct. 15 and 17. South Coast League Finals begin Oct. 21.
Boys Cross Country
The Dana Hills boys cross country program is simply a machine.
The Dolphins are always in contention and always reloading, but they build from within and maintain their consistent level of success. Expectations remain the same year after year, and the Dolphins usually meet them.
Dana Hills finished second in CIF-SS Division 1 and third in the state in Division 1 last season, but change has hit the Dolphins.
With a dip in school enrollment, Dana Hills drops down to Division 2 for the first time in a while.
“We’d love to stay in Division 1 forever,” Dana Hills coach Craig Dunn said, “but Division 2 is loaded, with Newbury Park, Claremont and Loyola. We’ll have our hands full there, but if we continue to put in the work and stay healthy, we can run with almost anyone.”
Dana Hills loses three seniors from its scoring five last season, including its pacesetter, but as mentioned, the Dolphins build from within and are still set for 2019.
Senior Carrick Denker will be this season’s pacesetter for Dana Hills. Denker finished 21st at the state meet last season. Junior Brandon Pizano, who finished 31st at state, also returns.
Juniors Gianni Viola and Ryan Broadhead and senior Omar Garcia will also step up for the Dolphins.
Dunn said that El Toro will be a tough challenge in league, even believing they’d be favored ahead of Dana Hills. Dunn also believes that the Dolphins are ready to step up to the line with anybody.
Girls Cross Country
The Dana Hills girls cross country team still has some building to do.
The Dolphins finished third in the South Coast League for a second straight season, but the Dolphins didn’t make it to the state meet, as they did the year before. Dana Hills finished 15th at the CIF-SS Division 1 Finals.
Also dropping to Division 2, like the boys, the girls team will bring back a couple of experienced runners.
Senior Marisa Gaitan is the top returner for the Dolphins. She finished 33rd at the CIF-SS Finals.
Dana Hills hosts the 46th edition of the Dana Hills Invitational on Sept. 28. Orange County Championships are Oct. 19, and South Coast League Finals are Nov. 6.
The Dolphins are in a world of change after a spectacular 2018 season.
Dana Hills girls tennis advanced to the program’s 12th CIF-SS Final but could not capture its second title. The Dolphins also graduated all of their top players from that team that won the program’s 28th consecutive league title.
On top of the graduation losses, Dana Hills also has a new coach, John Cost.
Cost comes to the Dolphins from the Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks. It’s also Cost’s first full season as a high school head coach, and Cost understands it will be a building process.
“We’re a young, young team,” Cost said. “We only have two seniors, and as we get into the bulk of the season, they’re starting to get the hang of what I’m trying to advise them, to be a little more competitive and not error-prone.”
The Dolphins’ No. 1 singles player is a returner in Gigi Banducci. Dana Hills will be led on the doubles side by the pair of Caroline Allemann and Aidan Rice.
Dana Hills has split the last five league championships with San Clemente, and continuing its league title streak will be a tougher task this season with challenges from the Tritons and a rising Aliso Niguel.
Dana Hills hosts San Clemente on Sept. 24 and plays at San Clemente on Oct. 10.
Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports.